What is Lean Six Sigma?

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Lean Six Sigma is a management system that uses data-driven decision-making to reduce waste, improve quality, and increase productivity in business. It’s a collection of tools and techniques used to help companies become more efficient, save money, and increase their profits.

Lean Six Sigma seeks to ensure the highest levels of quality at the lowest cost and in the least amount of time possible. It is used to improve the quality and efficiency of business processes dramatically. Organizations using these strategies have seen reduced service times, improved customer satisfaction, higher profits and fewer defects. Lean Six Sigma principles can be applied to many different industries, from healthcare to transportation to banking.

A brief history of Lean Six Sigma

Lean Six Sigma is a process improvement methodology developed in the 1990s. It is a combination of two other methodologies: Lean and Six Sigma.

Lean is a system-wide approach to reducing waste and improving quality in any process. It was initially developed by Toyota in the 1940s and was introduced to the US in the 1980s. Since then, it has been adopted by many organizations as a way to improve efficiency and reduce costs.

Motorola developed Six Sigma in 1986 as a way to improve quality and eliminate defects from manufacturing processes. It focuses on reducing variation in manufacturing processes so that fewer than 3.4 defects per million opportunities (DPMO) occur for each product produced.

Lean manufacturing

Lean manufacturing is a strategy focused on minimizing waste while still meeting the same amount of customer demand. It’s often confused with simply reducing inventory levels, but lean manufacturing is more than just cost reduction. Waste can be defined as anything that does not add value to the end product or service. When you focus on eliminating waste in your processes, you’ll see better cost and quality control results within your business model.

Types of waste that lean manufacturing seeks to eliminate

The lean manufacturing philosophy aims to minimize eight types of waste in production processes. These wastes are described using the acronym DOWNTIME.


A defect is a product that doesn’t meet its design specifications or customer expectations. In lean manufacturing, eliminating defects aims to improve customer satisfaction and reduce costs.

Several types of defects can occur during the manufacturing process:

  • In-process defects occur before a product reaches its final stage of production. Examples include defective raw materials, poor quality control and bad workmanship.
  • Defects in the inspection occur when inspectors fail to check for defects in products or processes before they leave the factory floor.
  • Factory floor errors include incorrectly setting up equipment or performing maintenance on equipment improperly – both of which can lead to other types of waste within an organization’s lean manufacturing system.


Also known as ‘Mura’, overproduction is the creation of more products than needed. For example, overproduction may occur when a company produces too much inventory before selling any products because it expects sales to increase in the future. This may lead to high levels of idle capacity and unnecessary expenses related to production costs and storage space.

Waiting time

This happens when workers wait for machines or tools to become available for use before they can get started on their assigned tasks, leading to delays in the production flow and wasted effort by employees who could be doing something useful with their time while they wait.

Non-used talent

This is any situation where your employees aren’t doing what they’re good at or enjoy doing, resulting in a suboptimal work environment. This may be because they are bored with their job, feel unappreciated by management, or do not have the training required for their position. 

Whatever the reason, this type of waste results in decreased productivity, low morale and high turnover rates within the company.


Transportation waste refers to moving materials from one place to another within your facility or across multiple facilities to complete a task or make something. However, transportation waste can also refer to moving people around (e.g., having employees walk up and down stairs all day because there is no elevator).


Inventory waste refers to storing materials that are not needed at a given time. Lean manufacturing seeks to reduce inventory by only making what is required when needed, reducing the amount of money wasted on inventory.


Motion waste refers to the unnecessary movement of people, such as walking across a room or driving back and forth between locations with no actual purpose other than moving from Point A to Point B. Motion can also refer to unnecessary movements made while performing a task – for example, reaching for something when there is already something closer at hand that could be used instead. This often occurs when too many tools are on a bench, so people have no choice but to move around unnecessarily, looking for the right tool each time they need it.


Extra-processing is any activity that adds no value to the created product or service. Examples include unnecessary steps and repeated tasks or processes. Extra-processing can also occur when a product or service has features added to it that are not necessary for its intended use.

The Lean Six Sigma concept

Lean Six Sigma is a management system that combines lean manufacturing with the Six Sigma quality methodology. Lean manufacturing is a system that focuses on reducing waste and increasing efficiency to allow for better customer service and less production lead time. The Six Sigma methodology focuses on improving quality by eliminating defects or errors in the production process.

The main principle of Lean Six Sigma is that any process can be improved by analyzing it using a structured approach, which involves identifying areas for improvement, implementing changes, and measuring the outcome. This helps you identify where resources are wasted and how to use them more effectively.

Lean Six Sigma has been used successfully in many industries, including aerospace, automotive and healthcare.

Lean Six Sigma principles

Lean Six Sigma has five principles – define, measure, analyze, improve, and control (DMAIC).


Before starting any project, you first need to clearly define what you’re trying to accomplish. The goal can be something as simple as reducing defects or increasing customer satisfaction. It doesn’t matter what the objective is, but it must be clearly defined so that everyone knows exactly what they’re working toward from the start.


Once you’ve defined your objective, move on to measuring how well your current processes work versus how well they should work (i.e., how many defects are produced). You’ll then determine which variables have impacted performance and pinpoint areas where improvements can be made.


Now that you know where problems lie and what needs to be changed, analyze those factors using statistical tools, such as control charts and Pareto charts, to determine where changes will significantly impact overall performance. For example, if you discover that poor-quality interfaces with a vendor result in a high number of customer complaints, address those issues by implementing a better-quality control process.


Once you’ve analyzed your data and identified problem areas, implement changes that will improve your process and make it more efficient overall. 

Often referred to as ‘kaizen’ (a Japanese word that means ‘change for the better’), these are minor improvements that build upon one another over time until a significant change occurs. The goal here is not necessarily to fix everything in one fell swoop, but rather to make incremental improvements.


The control phase is the final phase of DMAIC, and it involves monitoring, measuring, and analyzing data to verify that the process changes are working as expected.

In the control phase, you will determine if your improvements have been successful or if they need to be reworked. This step aims to ensure that any gains achieved during earlier phases are sustained over time after improvement has been completed.

Lean Six Sigma techniques

The Lean Six Sigma concept uses several tools and techniques to achieve its goals. Some of these include the following.


Kanban is a tool for visualizing and optimizing workflow. It is used to limit the amount of work in progress (WIP) and to ensure that tasks are completed in the correct order.

Kanban is a Japanese word that means ‘visual card’. The idea behind Kanban is to set up a physical or electronic board with columns representing your workflow, and then place cards or sticky notes on the board to track items moving through it.

For example, if your company manufactures products, you might have a column for each production stage – design, development, testing, manufacturing, and so on. Each card represents an individual product at a particular stage of production. The cards move from one column to another as they move through that stage. When all the stages are complete, and no more cards are left in any one column, it’s time to start making new products again.


Kaizen is a process improvement strategy where small and incremental changes are made over time to achieve big results. Kaizen focuses on continuous improvement and eliminating waste, leading to cost savings, greater efficiency, improved quality and enhanced customer satisfaction.

Kaizen is the opposite of perfectionism in that it’s not about making everything perfect all at once but about making continual improvements in small steps.

The critical element for success with kaizen is having everyone involved in the project committed to making improvements, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem at first glance.

Value stream mapping

Value stream mapping is a Lean Six Sigma technique that helps you identify and eliminate waste in your processes. It’s a visual method of identifying how materials flow through your process, and it can help you improve the efficiency of your workplace.

Value stream mapping involves graphically creating a map to represent the various steps involved in your process. You can use this map to identify any unnecessary steps or bottlenecks that may slow down your production line. Once you’ve identified these problems, you can start brainstorming ways to fix them and improve your business.

Value stream mapping simplifies the process by eliminating unnecessary steps, reducing lead time, and improving throughput time. Value stream mapping also helps teams work together more effectively to eliminate bottlenecks in their projects and improve overall efficiency within an organization.

The 5S tool

The 5S tool is a simple yet effective approach to organizing your work environment. It requires that you eliminate clutter and unnecessary items from your workspace, organize what remains efficiently, and then maintain the organization daily.

The 5S tool was developed as part of the Lean Six Sigma methodologies. It comes from the Japanese words seiri (sort), seiton (set in order), seiso (shine), seiketsu (standardize), and shitsuke (sustain).

  • Sort: Remove everything that doesn’t belong in the area being organized.
  • Set in order: Put everything back into its proper place.
  • Shine: Clean up and remove any dirt or grime that may be present.
  • Standardize: Ensure that the area stays clean by following the new procedures for cleaning up after yourself, completing tasks, etc.
  • Sustain: Keep up with your 5S efforts and make sure that there are no lapses in compliance.

How is the Lean Six Sigma concept applied?

Lean Six Sigma can be applied to many different industries. The principles of Lean Six Sigma are used in education, healthcare, transportation and banking.

When you think of a manufacturing company, you may immediately picture a factory floor with many machines whirring and workers carrying parts from one place to another. However, Lean Six Sigma applies to other industries, even if they don’t involve manufacturing physical products. For example, it can help hospitals operate more efficiently by reducing patient wait times or help credit card companies manage their customer service issues more effectively.

Benefits of Lean Six Sigma

Lean Six Sigma is used by many different industries for many purposes. It can help organizations:

  • Improve their products or services
  • Reduce costs and lead times
  • Increase customer satisfaction and retention rates
  • Reduce employee turnover rates
  • Increase productivity levels within departments or entire organizations

Lean Six Sigma belt levels

The belt level is a key concept of the Lean Six Sigma methodology. The belt levels are indicators that show the level of commitment to Lean Six Sigma improvement.

Lean Six Sigma belts are worn by individuals who have completed the appropriate training and certification requirements. The belts are earned through experience, achievement, and examination. Each belt level has its own project requirements, which must be completed to advance to the next level.

The advancement of eLearning technology allows professionals to immerse themselves in a master lean manufacturing online degree instead of disrupting their schedules to attend traditional classes.

White belt

The white belt is the entry level of Lean Six Sigma. At this level, you will be learning the basic principles of Lean Six Sigma and gaining a solid understanding of the tools and techniques used in the system.

As you progress through this level, you will learn about the history of Lean Six Sigma and its benefits to an organization. You will also learn about the various organizational roles that can help improve quality within an organization.

Yellow belt

At this level, you will have gained experience in some of the basic tools and techniques used in Lean Six Sigma. Yellow belts can apply these tools to real-world situations and identify possible areas for improvement using these tools and techniques. You will also learn how to use data effectively when performing projects related to Lean Six Sigma.

Green belt

Green belts have gained significant experience with all aspects of Lean Six Sigma, including statistical analysis, process management, project management and problem-solving. Green belts are often given more responsibility than other employees due to their extensive knowledge in these areas and their ability to work collaboratively with others throughout the organization who do not have this experience or expertise (for example, line managers).

Black belt

Black belts are typically the second most experienced members of a Lean Six Sigma team. They are expected to be able to lead projects from start to finish, all while maintaining their own skills and continuing to learn new ones. They also serve as mentors for green and yellow belts within the organization and may lead training sessions for new hires.

Master black belt

Master black belts are considered leaders within an organization with a deep understanding of Lean Six Sigma concepts and principles and general business practices and processes. They are expected to be able to train other members of their teams, including green belts and yellow belts, on how best to implement Lean Six Sigma methodologies within their respective departments or sections of the company.


Lean Six Sigma is a way of thinking about how to make things better. The lean part focuses on eliminating waste from processes and creating a culture of continuous improvement. The Six Sigma part focuses on reducing variation in processes and ensuring that they are robust enough to handle unexpected conditions.

The two parts are complementary – when combined, they help create a process that is efficient and effective at producing results that meet customer requirements.

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